Challenges: Reading, Writing, Learning

The mentoring program I started in my department  focuses on deep relationships. Students often use the one-to-one time to share experiences of feeling disconnected between how they learn and how they are being taught. In my own work, I use these insights to try and find a middle ground to help better connect the dots.

I once taught a large introductory lecture course required by majors but popular among students from a wide range of disciplines. During an exam review, amongst the 450+ students in the class, one mustered the courage to ask why I wanted them to apply rather than simply remember what we were learning. His question surprised me at first, how could mere aquisition of knowledge be seen as better than understanding? but upon closer reflection demonstrated a divide. Given the time I’ve spent in the classroom I have had many occasions to question the impact of this gap.

What lead me to university teaching is not necessarily what brings many students to the classroom. I was among the first in my family to go to university. I got here almost despite my circumstances. Yet I revel in this playground of ideas and I benefit daily from the priviledge of co-constructing knowledge with others. Some students share this pleasure in learning, but many see it as a necessary step or safe haven until they figure out what to do next.

I have come to think of this as an opportunity, if a challenging one.

In response I focus on the fundamentals of critical learning; how to think while you listen; how to ask important questions; how to value sharing and address different points ways of knowing; and how to appreciate multiple forms of expression as neither equal nor hierarchical but as parts of a continuum.

How do I get students to read? Give them less? Give them different things? ‘Hold their hands’ and read in class? Let them pick? Give them more, give them choice, and do it all, I say.


my students ‘buy-in’ when they feel able to understand their own knowledge as a living thing and when they can find different ways into the material